The Whole John Muir Trail and Then Some

DSCF1073 DSCF1174 DSCF1459

Jennings Rengel

Step Reflection


For my step project, I spent time planning and budgeting, organizing, and then leading a through hike of the John Muir Trail. We spent 28 days in California and took 21 days to hike all 220 miles of the trail.

This was truly a transformational experience for me and I won’t soon forget this. I am very proud of what I have done. At the end of the trail upon completion, I felt physically exhausted, but yet hungry for more. I didn’t want to be done because I was enjoying myself so much. I was relaxed, fit, at peace, and settled into a rhythm. Every morning was an adventure on the trail. I woke up and started hiking, all the while wondering what beautiful scenery was going to come next. I never had to worry about responsibilities, or entertaining myself. Hiking was life.

When I started the trail, I looked at it as a personal challenge and not an experience. I didn’t expect to make friends along the way. I didn’t expect to discover a new culture (sort of an old-school hippy counter-culture). I didn’t anticipate how hard the trail would be. The first day on the trail I started out by eating a big piece of humble-pie.

I definitely noticed some changes coming over me on the trail. I have always been a relatively solitary person. I never stand out in a crowd, am always shy, quiet, but on the trail everything came so easy to me. I made many friends along the way. When you only encounter another human once a day or so you realize how important those interactions are. Normally when I am going about my daily routine I never talk too much to people around me except for my friends. On the trail, I looked forward to those interactions. You take people for granted in the world. On the trail you realize how important people are. The tranquility of nature is amazing, but after a while you really want someone to share it with; someone who appreciates it as much as you. Its ironic how getting away from society brings people together.

We did meet some amazing people along the way. One particular gentleman seemed to have traveled the whole world over. I inquired about a patch that he had sewn onto his light brown lightweight leather jacket that looked like something an old wild west cowboy might wear. I learned that he got that particular patch on one of his trips to Nepal. As he recounted the story of his trip to us, he reminisced about how next time he goes back he won’t recognize some of his favorite places because they were destroyed in the earthquake this summer. It has been a dream of mine to visit Nepal and someday and see Mt. Everest with my own eyes. It was incredible to meet someone who has actually been there. That’s not something you get to do every day. This particular gentleman went on to tell us that he is retired and typically spends all summer just hiking around the Sierra-Nevada and then goes home to Hawaii for the winter. He pretty much just summed up my retirement goals. I would love to be an accomplished world traveler. There aren’t very many things that stoke my fire like exploring. It really makes me feel alive. I refuse to let the saying “no body ever dies wishing they had worked more” describe my life.

On the second half of the trail we met Chris who happened to be a master outdoorsman who was very willing to share his knowledge. This guy was like the MacGyver of the woods. He made his own stove system out of a couple of beer cans and nails, he packaged all of his food in a way that allowed him to carry a full 10 days in a pack that weighed 30lbs fully loaded and about 15lbs with just his clothes, tent, and gear, found a ripped Patagonia puffy in the trash, superglued the shell back together and wore it, used his bear canister as a washing machine, et cetera. He taught me how to catch, kill, clean, and cook a trout over an open fire (grill them on a blazing hot slab of granite). I’ve eaten fish before but never any that tasted as good as those trout. This had a profound impact on me. For one, now I feel like I can call myself an outdoorsman.

Secondly It made me realize how wasteful we are on a regular basis. When I was eating that fish, I felt obligated to eat every last scrap of meat. I felt like I owed it to the fish. The girls that we were with were vegetarians and when I asked them why they explained that its not that they object to eating animals necessarily, but rather they object to the way we raise animals to be eaten. They didn’t have much of an issue with us catching fish out of a wild untamed river and cooking them. I don’t plan on becoming a vegetarian anytime soon because I like meat, but it made me stop to think about where my food comes from. I decided that cutting back on the amount of meat that I eat and making sure that I don’t waste anything would in a small way pay homage to those animals that gave their lives and be a responsible thing to do.

The trip was a good experience for me because I got out of my comfort zone, met a lot of new people, and experienced a sort of enlightenment. Additionally, from an academic perspective, I got to put my research and planning skills to work. It was good for me to be totally in the driver’s seat and have complete control over a project that I wanted to complete on order to make myself a stronger, more well traveled person.

I think the changes that I experienced on my trip will continue to shape that way that I think about life. I now have a clearer understanding of who I am, what my values, goals, and where I want to go in life. Life should be more about the journey and not the destination. I know that I have to work to live, but I don’t want my life to be about working because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. Society doesn’t matter and there will be a day when it ceases to exist. What will be left is the physical world. I want my life to be about exploring. I want to see as much of the world as I can. You only get one opportunity to live.

I took many pictures on the trail. After my camera battery died I switched on my iPhone and had a go of it with the built in camera. The resulting stunningly beautiful photos can be seen on my google photos page

Finally, one of the last experiences that I had along the way was one of the side trips that my climbing partner Jesse and I took. In Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, Jesse and I decided to climb Lembert Dome. The western side of this dome is a vertical face with about 400 feet of climbing above another 200 feet of exposure. This is where we decided to try our first multi-pitch climb. What that means is that one person climbs while the other belays from below. Then, the second person climbs while the first person belays them from above. I found myself looking down at about 400 feet of air hanging from an anchor in the wall belaying Jesse (who at this point was 200 feet above me) and at that point I asked myself, how terrified am I right now? How do the professional climbers do this? Is this worth the scare? Everything worked out fine, and I am proud that I kept myself together and finished the climb, but from now on anytime I get into a scary situation, I just have to remember how scared I was then and suddenly things won’t seem so bad.

I wish that I had the time to talk about every one of the challenges and experiences that I dealt with along the way, but as of right now, I don’t feel like writing a novel. I hope that I can have many more experiences like this in my lifetime, but until next summer I’ll have to enjoy reminiscing about this trip and hopefully inspire others to experience the world in a different way. The world is awesome. Take a chance. Get out there.

One thought on “The Whole John Muir Trail and Then Some

  1. Sounds like an incredible time – I was in Yosemite this summer (but with 3 small children), so I didn’t get all of the same experiences but can relate to your appreciation of the beauty there!

Leave a Reply to Julie Sanzone Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *